The UNLV Runnin’ Rebels defeated the Gardner-Webb Bulldogs 64-58 in their home opener on Nov. 10 at the Thomas and Mack Center.
This season, the Runnin’ Rebels are led by head coach Kevin Kruger, who was formerly the assistant head coach, and have welcomed a multitude of new transfer students, with just a few returners.
“I’m very proud of the guys for fighting and competing,” Kruger said. “I really feel that when we go back and watch the film we will be really encouraged how much better we can get.”
UNLV started the first half strong with Bryce Hamilton scoring the first points of the night.
Defensively, the Runnin’ Rebels put pressure on the Bulldogs in the backcourt in a 2-3 zone, causing five turnovers in the first five minutes of the ball game.
The Bulldogs managed to feed off of defensive stops to gain offensive momentum. With four minutes left to go in the first half, the Bulldogs went up five points, 22-17, but the Runnin’ Rebels were not intimidated.
With forty seconds left in the first half, Hamilton drove to the basket to give UNLV a three point lead, 27-24, going into half time.
Offensively, the Runnin’ Rebels focused on getting the ball in the paint for easy layups. The offensive flow struggled in the first half, shooting 20.59 percent from the field and 5.88 percent from 3-point range.
To open the second half, Hamilton made an easy layup, 29-24. The momentum shifted from the Bulldogs to the Runnin’ Rebels as they started gaining momentum from the defensive end and turned it into easy fast break offensive points, jumping to a 39-31 lead.
UNLV could not find the bottom of the net, so they continued to feed the ball inside to Hamilton and fifth-year transfer Royce Hamm Jr.
To find a spark within the offense, with nine minutes left in the ball game, Josh Baker threw an alley-oop pass to Hamm Jr. to stretch the lead 49-43. The Runnin’ Rebels defense began to slack.
The Bulldogs went on an 8-2 run to tie the game 51-51 with five minutes left to play.
With less than a minute left, the score was 60-57 adding pressure with fans from the student section standing and chanting for some sort of action on the court.
The Runnin’ Rebels turned the ball over leading to an easy fastbreak points, but Donovan Williams had chased down block, but was called for the foul and got called for a technical foul for taunting resulting in four free throw attempts.
Bulldog Lance Terry only made one of the four free throws to cut the deficit to 60-58.
Hamilton drove to the basket with 20 seconds left, stretching the score 62-58 and Micheal Nuga made two free throws to end the game.
Hamilton led the Runnin’ Rebels with 22 points while Hamm Jr. managed to get a double-double with 18 points, 17 rebounds, and four blocks.
UNLV not only was impressive on the offensive side, but on the defensive side. The Runnin’ Rebels forced the Bulldogs to commit 16 turnovers at the end of the game.
“We’ll take this one as a staff because we didn’t put as much emphasis on the offensive side of the ball until a little more recently because we really felt we could make an imprint with this team defensively,” Kruger said. “As they continue to play together and start to learn each other’s instincts and movements, I think the offense will get better.”
The Runnin’ Rebels will be facing the California Bears on Nov. 13 at 5 p.m. at the Thomas and Mack Center for their second game of the week.
The game will be televised on the Mountain West Network for fans not able to attend in person. All fans must be vaccinated to attend the games and UNLV students can claim their free tickets at unlvtickets.evenue.net